Category Archives: Hedley Times

T.C. Knowles, War Hero and Citizen

In the game of life, Thomas (T.C.) Knowles of Hedley was not a bystander. After the death of his father, he emigrated to Canada in 1910 with his sister and brother-in-law from Glasgow, Scotland. Three years later, at the age of 20, he accompanied them to Hedley and worked in the Power House at the Daly Reduction Plant (gold mining company).

In 1915 a recruiter for the Canadian Army deeply stirred his patriotism. He and a number of young Hedley men eagerly enlisted. T.C. was assigned to the 54th Battalion.

According to Hedley researchers, Andy English and Jennifer Douglass, citizens of the town enthusiastically raised the equivalent of $75,000 in today’s currency to support the men in their war effort. Most of the funds were designated for machine guns and the local recruits became known as “the Hedley Machine Gun Boys.”

Lieut. T.C. Knowles (photo from Knowles family collection)
Lieut. T.C. Knowles
(photo from Knowles family collection)

T.C. was quickly promoted to Corporal and then Sergeant. His war diary, kept in a small notebook he carried throughout the war, reveals that he participated in major battles of WWI. On August 26, 1916 he wrote, “went into action at St. Eloi, Ypres.” Then on Oct. 11, “went into action at Corcelette (Somme).” March 1, 1917, he wrote, “regiment on large raid at Vimy Ridge. Very unsuccessful.” His daughter Anne Lloyd of Kamloops still has his diary and flying log.

T.C. proved to be a courageous soldier. On May 11, 1917 the London Gazette reported “his majesty the king has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the Military Medal for bravery in the field to Sergeant TC Knowles.” In 1917 he was seconded to the RAF where he trained as a pilot and patrolled the English Channel.

Demobilized on June 13, 1920, he was quite intact physically, emotionally and mentally. For a time he resumed his role as a steam engineer at the gold mining operation in Hedley. He married Thomasina (Ina) Boyd on August 24, 1922 and they raised 5 children in their home at 957 Ellis Ave. in Hedley.

In 1937 he was appointed to the position of Postmaster of Hedley. Here his zest for life and unique sense of humour at times surprised people. One favourite trick was to wear eyeglasses with false eyeballs that popped out and then retracted. Today’s postal regulations might not look kindly on such interactions with patrons.

In “Mines of the Eagle Country”, Doug Cox provides an insight into the nature and character of T.C.. He quotes Mary Smith, who lived with her husband high on the mountain at the Nickel Plate townsite. She said, “there was a wonderful man in Hedley, Tommy Knowles, the Post Master. We would send our cheques down to be cashed by him and ask him to pay our bill at the store. If there was something in the hardware, he would pay these bills and send the remaining money back. It would come up the skip.”

His son-in-law, Gordon Lloyd says, “when we were fishing at a pond in the river, if a fish came to his lure, he’d yank out the lure so the fish would come to mine.” According to Gordon, T.C. told people his success in fishing came from using Scottish worms soaked in whiskey and kept in the fridge overnight.

T.C. understood well that a community will be vibrant only if citizens are active in its organizations. He served as secretary-treasurer of the hospital society, chairman of the Cenotaph committee, and trustee and devoted member of the Grace United Church. He was also an active promoter and developer of the Hedley Golf Course. His wife “Ina” shared his community mindedness. According to daughters Beverly and Anne,  she played the organ at church for 60 years.

T.C. had a wonderful ability to accept and interact with people of other cultures and races. According to Gordon Lloyd, when he passed away in 1959, there were as many people from the local reserve at the funeral as from Hedley. He and Thomasina, and other members of the family are buried in the Hedley Cemetery. To this day, those who remember T.C. and Thomasina Knowles, or know of them, still speak of them with a palpable sense of awe.

Hedley Hotels – Part 3 of 3

Although there were already 4 hotels in Hedley very early in the twentieth century, there was evidently sufficient business to warrant the construction of two more. In the summer of 1905 John Jackson built the New Zealand. For the most part the reasoning behind the names of the other hotels in Hedley can be understood. I have seen no explanation as to why a hotel in Hedley would be named the New Zealand. For the investors it proved to be a short-lived venture. In the early morning hours of November 6, 1911 it burned down.

In the fall of 1905 John Lind and the Peterson brothers leased a building from G.H. Sproule. After considerable reconstruction, they opened it in 1906 as the Great Northern Hotel.

Great Northern Hotel and Armitage Garage, 1940
Great Northern Hotel and Armitage Garage, 1940

(photo from Hedley Museum collection)

Writing in the April, 1948 British Columbia Historical Quarterly, Harry D. Barnes observed that “Hedley now had six hotels, and for a few years there was business for them all. As was common in mining towns of the day, the hotel bars were kept open 24 hours a day and seven days a week.”

The Great Northern was no more fortunate than the other five Hedley hotels. In the winter of 1956-57, it also burned down.

Both the Mascot and Nickle Plate mines had ceased operations by this time, so the town was no longer in need of hotels. Although it seems unusual that three hotels burned down the year after the closing of the Nickle Plate, I have come across no suggestion that the demise of any of the hotels came about by suspicious circumstances. Also, I have come across no reports of injuries or deaths as a result of these fires.

With the closing of the mines and the burning of the hotels, Hedley lost its excitement and swagger, and many of its inhabitants. It became a town that attracted not seekers of wealth, but seekers of a quiet life away from the bustle and noise of city life.

Hedley Hotels – Part 2 of 3

Each time I visit the Hedley Museum (usually at least 2 times per week) I return to the wall where photos of several Hedley hotels are displayed. I recall being amazed when I first learned that there had been 6 hotels of note, as well as several smaller ones, now largely forgotten. Even today it continues to surprise me that our little town, which presently has about 250 inhabitants on a good day, was the hub of so much activity.

In addition to the two hotels mentioned in the previous post, a third, The Commercial, was constructed by C.E. Oliver and Associates in the fall of 1902. In 1911, this hotel almost met the same dismal fate as the other two. A front page story in the January 26, 1911 Hedley Gazette reads as follows:

“Hedley nearly came in for a rather serious blaze on Thursday night of last week. Fire started in Critcley’s shoeshop, a small building attached to the Commercial hotel. It is thought that a spark from the stove caught in a gunny sack curtain near by and it was beginning to go in lively shape when noticed by F.M. Gillespie and G. McEachern, who happened to be in the drugstore opposite and were looking in that direction. They rushed over and kicked in the door, where the gunny sack was blazing and the woodwork alongside was in flames. First thing they pulled down the curtain and stamped out the fire. Then, using the partially burned sacking they smothered the remaining flames.”

The hotel survived several other fire related incidents. It did burn down though, in 1956. I have not found a photo of the Commercial, so if anyone has one please contact me on the comment section of the blogsite.

A fourth hotel, The Similkameen, situated at the corner of Scott

Similkameen Hotel, 1904
Similkameen Hotel, 1904

Avenue and 2nd Street, was built in 1904. The cost of $15,000. was a considerable sum at that time, and it was touted by the owners to be “the finest hotel in Hedley”. Writing in the April, 1948 edition of the British Columbia Historical Quarterly,  Harry D. Barnes describes it as “a modern, well-built, and comfortable hotel.” He goes on to say “it soon became a popular stopping-place for travellers.”

On February 2, 1916 a fierce fire engulfed The Similkameen. Due to the intense cold, water pipes were frozen. In a futile attempt to control the blaze, desperate firefighters could do no more than throw buckets of snow on the conflagration. Only a few pieces of china marked “Similkameen Hotel” survived.

Hedley Hotels – Part 1 of 3

When gold was discovered on Nickel Plate Mountain in 1898, it attracted not only prospectors and miners, but also men with a variety of business ideas for cashing in on the bonanza. A few had the foresight to anticipate the coming demand for accommodation.

The first of these hoteliers was the enterprising D.G. Hackney who

Hedley Hotel, 1900
Hedley Hotel, 1900

built the Hedley Hotel in the winter of 1900. Located on HaynesStreet directly across from the present day site of the Hedley Museum, it was constructed of hewn logs. The hotel was licenced as of January, 1901. The business did not prosper indefinitely, possibly due to competition from other hotels which soon sprang up. Changes in liquor laws may also have been a contributing factor. Hedley Museum notes indicate that it was later converted to a garage and then in 1956 unfortunately burned to the ground.

In the summer and fall of 1902, Messrs. McDermott and Marks built

Grand Union Hotel, 1906
Grand Union Hotel, 1906

the Grand Union Hotel. On August 29, 1903 they sold it to Robert Herron and Anton Winkler. A few years later Herron sold out his interest to Winkler. The hotel operated under Winkler’s management until a raging fire destroyed it on December 31, 1918.

All that remains today of these two early hotels is the photos, which are on display at the Hedley Heritage Museum.



Birds, Food & Clown at Hedley Reunion

The Hedley Reunion on August 9 demonstrated again that former

Kerry Lomax & Curtis Armstrong inspecting the meat.
Kerry Lomax & Curtis Armstrong inspecting the meat.

residents have deep roots here. They came from Princeton, Keremeos, the Okanagan Valley, Victoria, and as far away as Alberta and the Maritimes. For some it was an opportunity to connect with former classmates they had not seen since graduating from high school.

Planning for the event began a year ago when Don Armstrong of Hedley and Darryl McDonald of Keremeos started brainstorming about a reunion. They enlisted longtime Hedley resident Judy Turner and made the decision to get serious.

Jan Leake and daughter Cassie delighted children with face painting. In the afternoon the crowd was entertained by Jason Charters of Merritt who bills himself as the “Get Down Rodeo Clown.” He had brought his “assistants”, a couple of wonderfully realistic, long legged and nimble footed marionettes. Attached to him with wires and poles, one danced seductively in front of him and the other behind. Their enthusiasm, energy and sassy demeanour greatly pleased onlookers.

Postmaster Ruth Woodin opened the Beer Garden at 2 pm and toward dinner time appetites were aroused by the enticing aroma of 60 pounds of inside round roast sizzling on the Keremeos Fire Department’s giant barbeque. Head chef was Curtis Armstrong, ably assisted by Kerry Lomax, both of Kelowna.

Removing the meat from the extremely hot rod proved to be a challenge. Don Armstrong needed to run to his home and find several pairs of additional gloves. “We were just a bunch of amateurs doing this for the first time,” he said. A number of salads and desserts were supplied by the ladies of Hedley. With all that good food in their stomachs, guests may have needed a little respite to prepare for the Street Dance.

Music for the dance was provided by the Blackbirds of Keremeos. “They did our kind of music,” Judy Turner said. “People got up to dance, some of whom I didn’t think would. There were about 150 people all over the street.” The high octane Blackbirds brought an aura of vibrant enthusiasm and excitement. All comments about the band were favourable, including from people who enjoyed the music sitting on their patios at home.

When it was over, each of the organizers gave a lot of credit to the numerous individuals who played a role. And each expressed positive thoughts about the year long experience of making it happen. “It was a success for me,” Darryl McDonald said. “I got to meet a lot of people I had not seen since high school.” Judy Turner summed it up with “I had fun. Maybe we’ll do something else next year.” Don said, “everyone was happy. And if there is money left over, we will donate it to the organizations of Hedley.”

The Reunion brought people together and renewed relationships. Also, it once again demonstrated that the citizens of Hedley have mastered the art of throwing an exciting, class act party.


Meeting the Knowles of Hedley

I was vaguely aware that Thomas Cameron Knowles (T.C.) had

Former home of T.C.  & Thomasina Knowles, & their 5 children
Former home of T.C. & Thomasina Knowles, & their 5 children

played a key role in Hedley’s history. He was the Postmaster for many years and his wife, Thomasina, played the organ at the United Church for 60 years. Several members of the Knowles family are interred in the Hedley Cemetery. Those still living have re-located to other communities. Having become deeply intrigued by the fascinating history of this little former gold mining community and the people who made it their home, I hoped I might one day have a conversation with a member of the family, even if only by telephone.

Recently Linda and I attended a presentation about the “Hedley Boys”, young men who enlisted and saw combat in WW1. Andy English and Jennifer Douglass, two local researchers collaborated in meticulously gathering information about the lives and military contributions of these Hedley men. We learned that T.C. Knowles was one of the young men who served our country, participating in several major, well known campaigns.

We were sitting in the second row, directly behind a man and two women. All three were strangers to us. Leaning forward in their chairs, they were obviously totally focused and absorbed, not wanting to miss a single word spoken by Andy and Jennifer. They seemed utterly mesmerized by what was being said.

After the presentation we understood why they had been in the front row and had listened so carefully. The two women were Beverley and Anne, daughters of T.C. Knowles. The man was Gordon Lloyd, husband of Anne. They live in Kamloops and had driven here in the summer heat for this presentation. Much of the information on T.C. Knowles had come from Gordon.

After the 2 hour presentation we walked to the Museum with them. As we walked, Gordon pointed to the Hedley Fire Department. “The Red and White store used to be there until it burned down,” he said. “And next to it, where that new house is now, was the butcher shop.” Each of them recalled the town as they had known it when they were young. Both Anne and Beverley graduated from the Hedley High School several years prior to its closing in 1951.

We spent an hour with them over lunch at the Museum, and it was like striking Hedley gold. They were quite willing, even eager to share their knowledge and experiences. “We played ball with Jimmy Douglass,” Beverley said, referring to James (Jim) Douglass, author of the best seller, “JFK and the Unspeakable”. Memories from the past continued to pop up, still fresh and vivid in their minds. They had been at the Hedley cemetery the previous day and Anne named each member of the Knowles family laid to rest there.

Several days after our visit with them, Gordon sent an e-mail in which he mentioned Marlene, as though this was a name familiar to us. I wrote back saying, “I don’t know who Marlene is.” That evening I received an e-mail from Marlene, telling me she is a member of the French family. The Frenches, like the Knowles, are names of some renown in Hedley’s history. And both families understand that it is important to share their early memories so they will not be lost to future generations.

There are rich veins of history in this once bustling gold mining centre. We are fortunate that the Knowles and French families are opening the vaults of their memories so we can all benefit.

What’s Eating Us?

“What’s eating us! Is that an ant colony we’re standing on?”

"What's Eating Us?"
“What’s Eating Us?”

This scene was captured by Jean Robinson at the Hedley Museum’s Hawaiian Night celebration. We had enjoyed a lavish meal and now anyone wearing a Hawaiian shirt was called up. The ants, understandably, were miffed at us for invading their turf. These men were the unfortunate victims of their displeasure. Standing on the far left, I was quite oblivious of their bad luck. Was I just “in the right place at the right time?” None of us won the prize for the most attractive shirt. That went to a young lad who had the courage to wear a grass skirt as part of his outfit.

Down The Mountain On A Broom

IMGI have come to have a great deal of respect for the hardiness and ingenuity of the men who worked in the Mascot and Nickel Plate mines in the first half of the last century. The mines were high above Hedley and for those who had a wife and children in town, transportation was a constant challenge. According to historian Doug Cox, miners were allowed to ride in the skips used to transport ore down to the Stamp Mill. Permits were required, though,  and they were limited. Tough and determined, the miners resorted to innovation.

Cox says “some men got around the pass system by hiding near the upper ore bin until the skip had started down. Then they jumped on. The hitch hikers jumped off the skip before it reached the bottom ore bin and kept out of sight of the supervising staff. They skirted around the bluff, then down to the Hedley town site.”

In my opinion, it is the “broom riders” who were the most inventive and enterprising. In a letter to The Western in the June 20, 1990 edition, miner Bob MacRae (now deceased) wrote about placing a broom on one of the ore car rails and riding on it down the mountain. “This ‘broom affair’” he says, “consisted of a piece of rubber belting and a piece of tin channelled to fit the rail. It was nailed to an old house broom.” He wore old rubber boots for brakes and found that if he cut the handle off the broom, he could double his speed.

His record for a trip down the mountain was four and one half P0359minutes, including walking several flat stretches. On one occasion a worker had wiped grease on the rail and Bob’s rubber boot brakes became useless. His speed increased considerably. “I think I probably broke my record,” he says in his letter.

Bob’s sister Effie, a Hedley high school graduate, told me he had a good reason to rush down the mountain after work each day. “Bob had a new English bride from Manchester.” When I asked her if her brother had been a dare devil type, she said, “oh no, he was very cautious.” Possibly there were things about Bob that Effie didn’t know.

In time, others joined Bob in broom riding. Not all copied his more advanced innovation. Some just borrowed a broom and rode down.

Ken Jones, a former miner now living on Old Hedley Road, tried it once, “just for the fun. I couldn’t get the balance or the speed,” he told me. “It wasn’t for me.”

In time, company officials banned broom riding, but this left them short of more than 20 miners due to lack of transportation. To make up the deficiency they brought in a bus, and Bob MacRae was one of 2 drivers assigned to driving duties.

Bob’s description of this assignment suggests the bus ride may have been more dangerous than riding the broom. “Snow, ice, rocks, cows, horses and deer on the road with numerous blind corners made it treacherous driving,” he said. “There was times I wished I was riding carefree down the mountain on my broom.”

I wonder what present day union bosses and the WCB would have to say about this practise. Unfortunately, I have seen no photos of these ingenious, hardy men racing down the mountain on their brooms.

Down the Tram Line to Party

The following account was told to Ruth Woodin of Hedley, by her father-in-law Barry Woodin. He was battling cancer and near the end of his life. He evidently never lost his sense of humour. She says he was more of a father to her than her own father ever was.

Barry and Jean Woodin were in their early twenties and just married, ready to contend with any challenge life would present to them. Barry applied for a job at the Nickel Plate Mine near the peak of Nickel Plate Mountain. He was hired and they moved into one of the homes on the mine site, about 6,000 feet above sea level.

It was a delight to them when they learned that each Saturday night the mine provided a tram down the mountain to the Hedley town site. Workers and spouses could catch a ride in empty ore

Ore cars on exhibit at Hedley Museum
Ore cars on exhibit at Hedley Museum

cars. The ore cars were small, not equipped with seats, and not comfortable. It was simply a means of rapidly descending the steep mountain to enjoy an evening of partying in a more civilized setting. The ride down the mountain in what was essentially an open metal box was not for the faint of heart.

Former Tram Line on Nickel Plate Mountain
Former Tram Line on Nickel Plate Mountain

On their first Saturday at the mine, Barry burst through the door of their home after work and said, “hurry Jean, I don’t want to miss the tram!” Jean was doing her hair and pampering her face. “Leave me alone Barry,” she said. “I’ll be ready when I’m ready.”

After working in the mine all week, Barry was eager to get away and have some fun. “The tram won’t wait for us,” he told her. “If you aren’t done with your prettyin’ in time, I’m going on my own.”

Maybe she didn’t believe he’d go without her. Or maybe it was a young bride’s way of asserting herself. We can only guess at her reasoning but she wasn’t ready when it was time to leave. Barry had not been bluffing. “Good bye Sweetheart,” he said. See you later.”

He found a party and danced well into the night. Then, in the early hours of the morning, the tram rattled noisily back up the steep grade of Nickel Plate mountain, returning the weary but satisfied partyers. When Barry arrived at his front door, he fumbled with the latch. The door seemed stuck. Had he had one drink too many? After fiddling determinedly with the latch, leaning against the door, speaking to it in terms I won’t repeat here, he paused to consider.

After a moment of reflection he understood the problem. Fortunately, even with the cold mountain air nipping at his face and bare hands, he saw the humour in this. “She’s locked me out,” he said with a chuckle. “Well, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

He went to the mine workshop and found an axe. Returning to the house, he began chopping at the rear door, which was also locked, until there was a hole large enough for him to squeeze through. Before going to bed he hung a blanket to cover the opening. It would remain in place until he was able to find another door.

In spite of this incident, and probably at least a few more, Barry and Jean remained happily married until his passing at age 52.

When Barry finished telling Ruth this little story he said with a wink, “she was never late again.” According to Ruth, Jean never disputed any of the details of Barry’s story.


A Hot Summer Day In Hedley

July 12. It’s 11:05 in sunny downtown Hedley. 31 degrees on the front walkway, which is in the shade.

At about 8 a.m. Linda and I picked Saskatoons for breakfast. The air was still pleasantly cool when we sat on the side deck having Cheerios topped with slices of banana and Saskatoons. Usually breakfast consists of oatmeal with fruit, but now we choose not to warm the house with cooking.

We feel fortunate in being able to harvest the berries. Angelique bought this lot, which is directly across the street from her home, several years ago. The historic St. John’s church is on this site. Being interested in history, she commissioned our local historian, Jennifer Douglass, to research its past. Much of the lot is used for gardening and I have a pumpkin plant and about 12 potato plants growing on her huglebeet. Last year my pumpkin growing experiment there produced plenty of vines but only 2 pumpkins.

In spite of the Hedley heat, the two Cleopoatras and Miss Lonely Hearts enter the laying box faithfully virtually every morning. I stay away from their little domain until about 9:30 am. If they hear me while they are in the box, they abandon the laying because they think I’m there to give them their treat of dry oatmeal.

The girls are as seriously addicted to the oatmeal as an addict to heroin. The Cleopatras lay first, and while they are in the box, Lonely Hearts stands inside the gate of their fence, insistently calling for me to bring the treat. Then she goes into the box and the Cleopatras begin the vociferous pleading. Because Lonely Hearts is a slow layer, they become quite impatient. Although they have only small mouths, their volume is incredible. If we want to hear the computer, we have to close the rear windows.

Our small garden is doing well. We’ve finished eating the row of radishes. Lately it’s been bokchoy cabbage, spinach, beet leaves, arugula, kale, etc. Linda uses the produce in salads. I frequently snatch a leaf while working on an outdoor project. Marauding cabbage moths are a minor plague this year. Our neighbour Kim said moths and their dog Dixie have destroyed about 80% of their

Art Pursuing A Cabbage Moth
Art Pursuing A Cabbage Moth

garden. Last year I found a butterfly net with a long handle at the Princeton Dollar Store to snare the moths. My technique is improving and in spite of their clever evasive tactics, I’m averaging about a dozen kills per day. Of course, within 10 minutes of clearing the garden of them, another squadron swoops over the fence on either side and the destruction of plants continues almost without pause. Linda finds considerable humour in my wild leaping around and waving of the net. Fortunately as yet there is no “Moth Rights Society” here.

Due to the heat, Linda and I have been leaving for our walk at about 9pm. By this time the No See’ims are on the prowl. They must fast all day because they are ravenous. Currently we are experimenting with brown Listerine, rubbed on all exposed parts of the body. It does make a difference for about an hour. If we plan to stay out longer, we’ll have to carry the bottle with us.

I just looked at the thermometer. 37 degrees. A hot day in Hedley. It’s a good time to go to 20 Mile Creek and dangle our feet in the water.